HOUSTON – City Council recently approved a $624,960 program to provide internet vouchers to low-income Houstonians. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force has partnered with Comcast to provide approximately 5,000 vouchers to qualifying applicants from now until December 20, 2020. This agreement will ensure qualifying applicants can continue to stay connected to the internet for education, work, and personal health reasons for one calendar year.
“This pandemic has highlighted the importance of quality internet service particularly for those vulnerable populations who must stay at home to stay safe,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This program will provide a lifeline for citizens that have struggled through the pandemic without internet access and a way to stay informed, connected and safe during these challenging times.”
To qualify for the Internet Voucher Program, applicants must reside in the City of Houston and have a Comcast serviceable address. Applicants must also meet two additional sets of criteria. First, they must demonstrate that their total household income prior to February 2020 was lower than 80 percent of the Area Median Income. Second, they must be a member of one of the following groups: persons over age 65, persons with disabilities, households with children less than five years of age, or opportunity youth, defined as persons ages 16-24 who are not currently enrolled in school or participating in the workforce.
“During this unprecedented time, it is vital for Houstonians to stay connected to the Internet – for education, work, and personal health reasons,” said Comcast’s Melinda Little, Director of Government Affairs, Houston Region. “We’re proud to partner with the City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Health Equity Response Task Force to help keep Houstonians connected through our Internet Essentials Program.”
This program is a complement to the City’s Computer Access Program. Digital connectivity has become critical during the pandemic, but devices alone are less effective if people cannot use them to access the internet. While there are similar internet access programs for families with school-age children, the H.E.R. Task Force realized there were critical groups that were being overlooked.
“The shift online in everything from grocery shopping to accessing healthcare has been an additional barrier that Houstonians with disabilities have been forced to confront as a result of COVID-19,” said Gabe Cazares, Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. “Thanks to Mayor Turner’s commitment to equity and accessibility and the City Council’s support, this program will breakdown that barrier by providing in-home internet access for qualifying Houstonians with disabilities, enhancing their independence and self-determination.”
The vouchers will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis. Vouchers must be redeemed by December 20, 2020. Because these groups may not have access to digital ads or articles, the H.E.R. Task Force is encouraging Houstonians to refer the program to loved ones or friends who might need assistance.